Onward and Upward

Being a writer is hard.

Heck, being any kind of artist is hard.  Writing, drawing, painting, sculpting, composing or playing music, dancing, costuming, the performing arts…all of these and a few I haven’t listed require time, training, and serious dedication to master.  Some people have inborn talent that lets them pick up art forms more easily than others.  Some appear to be good at everything with no effort at all.  But that lack of effort is an illusion and I’d say that 99% of any master who makes the work they do look easy have paid their tithe of blood, sweat, and tears.

While talent may give you an edge in some fields, most of it is acquired through long, careful study and vigorous practice.  No matter how much talent Nature has gifted you, if you don’t expand and refine that gift, it will go to waste or never reach its full potential.  Thanks to my mother’s side of the family, I have a decent amount of inborn talent for drawing and painting.  It’s not genius level, but I look and approach things from an artist’s point of view and can draw decently without a whole lot of training.  However, I could be a really good artist if I put my mind to it.

During college, I took an art class where we spent roughly three hours a day two days a week drawing.  We did this for an entire semester.  At the beginning of the semester, for our first assignment, we had to draw a plant, a human hand, a chair, and a self-portrait, just to see where our talent and training levels were.  I was pretty proud of my efforts.  At the end of the semester, we had to do four more drawings of a plant, a human hand, a chair, and a self-portrait.  The difference was amazing.  In a little over three months, my drawing skills had improved exponentially.  (I was lucky enough to have had a teacher who believed in teaching technique rather than relying on our “feelings” and “inspiration” to instruct us.)  If I had continued drawing at that pace, experimenting with different mediums, after the class had ended, I would be a pretty good artist right now.  Alas, I did not continue to practice and drew only sporadically, so my drawing skills, while better than they were, are nowhere near the level I had attended at the end of that single semester.

Thanks to my dad’s side of the family, I also inherited a talent and passion for reading and writing.  The best thing about writing is that you can do it anywhere.  Yes, technically drawing can be done anywhere too, but you need a sketch pad and a good pencil and lots of other paraphernalia if you want to turn out a really amazing drawing.  (Unless you are a genius.  Then you’re excused.)  With writing, all you need is a piece of paper and a pen or pencil.  Having a computer makes things easier, but you don’t NEED a computer.  Writing is probably the most portable art form and probably the simplest to improve.  You just need to practice, read, practice some more, read some more, and listen to advice.  There are plenty of books out there about writing, but really, the only instructor you need are the books you like to read yourself.  That doesn’t mean learning to improve your writing will be easy, but it is simpler to work with and correct.  While the quality of a piece of artwork can be subject to personal taste and interpretation (to a point) most people can tell right away if a story is poorly written or lacks impact.

Still, having anything you’ve worked hard on, be it a painting or a novel, torn apart by critics is disheartening.  But we still can and should learn from it and work to improve ourselves and our work.  Art is hard to sell because it is a luxury item.  People can afford to spend money on art when they have disposable income, but these days most people don’t have that.  They are focused on buying necessities and making ends meet, not helping aid a starving artist in achieving their dreams.  There are plenty of artists on DeviantART who I would love to support and show my support by purchasing their work…but I don’t have the money to do that.  All I can do it encourage them with words and spread the word that they exist in the hopes that someone with that disposable income will come along.  But that also means that the people who do have some extra money will be very picky about what they purchase, so competition is fierce.  You have to be crazy-fraggin’-amazing to stand out in the crowd or entice someone to buy your work.  That means you have to push yourself and your talents to their limit, take any opportunity to improve them, watch the markets and see what people are and are not buying or selling.  Creating art is time consuming and expensive, so you don’t want to spend your time making something others aren’t going to buy…at least, not if you want to make a profit from it, let alone a living.

Most artists are not artists full time.  They have other jobs and lives outside their art to pay the bills.  Even the most wealthy and successful and famous artists started out working other jobs and continued working at least part time to sustain themselves.  Harrison Ford worked as a carpenter in between shooting for Star Wars.  Robin Williams was a street mime.  Madonna worked behind the counter at a Dunkin’ Doughnuts.  Jack Nicholson worked in the mail room at MGM.  Stephen King was a janitor.  I work as both a cleaning lady and a librarian to make ends meet and use my spare time to write.  That doesn’t make you less of an artist.  It makes you sensible to how the world works.  The last time artists could make a living just as artists was back in the Renaissance, but even then, you needed to be insanely good to attract a wealthy patron who would support you, and that support could go away at any time.  Eventually you can work your way up to the point where all you have to do is work on your art, but that takes a long, long time.  If you expect to get rich and famous right away from your writing or painting or acting, prepare to be disappointed.  It doesn’t work like that.  Yes, there are occasional over-night success stories, but those are the exception, not the norm.  If they were the norm, you wouldn’t hear about them in the paper.

The most important thing to remember as an artist, no matter what field you’re in, is to not expect immediate results.  The world owes you nothing.  As far as the universe is concerned, you and your work do not exist.  So, you need to keep working, keep honing your craft, and become the best you can be.  Just be patient, persistent, and work your little ass off.

2 thoughts on “Onward and Upward

  1. So inspirational. I need to read this whenever I feel disheartened. It makes me feel… like I want to work. Like it's game *on*. Thank you for posting this. I'll be re-reading it soon. 😉

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